As experienced Social Security Disability attorneys who have represented clients in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut over a combined 50 years, we know that doctor opinions can go a long way in proving a disability benefits claim. In Gay v. Commissioner of Social Security, the District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan explains that – as important as doctor opinions are – the conclusions in any opinion must be supported by either the findings of a medical examination or the claimant’s medical record.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied Plaintiff Jerry Gay’s claim for Social Security Disability benefits, in which he asserted that he’s unable to work due to low back pain. Plaintiff then appeared before an SSA Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at an administrative hearing. In a written opinion, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled for benefits purposes because he retained the ability to perform light work (lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time).
Plaintiff filed an appeal in federal court. The case was assigned to a magistrate judge and Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment in his favor. The judge recommended that Plaintiff’s motion be denied and instead that summary judgment be entered in favor of the SSA. Plaintiff then filed an objection to the recommendation, arguing that the ALJ’s decision should be reversed because the ALJ failed to give appropriate weight to the opinions of two of his treating physicians, Doctors Cheryl Lerchin and Todd Best.
The District Court adopted the magistrate’s recommendation, finding that the magistrate properly determined that the ALJ’s ruling was consistent with Dr. Lerchin’s opinion and properly discredited Dr. Best’s opinion. After examining Plaintiff in August 2005, Dr. Lerchin had concluded that Plaintiff was limited in his bending and twisting, should lift no more than 20 pounds and should limit the amount of time he spends in any one position. This opinion, according to the court, is in line with the ALJ’s decision, finding that Plaintiff retained the ability to perform light work.
Dr. Best examined Plaintiff in July 2007. the Court found that “[d]espite finding that Plaintiff was capable of engaging in most daily activities (except shopping) and ambulating without a cane, Dr. Best indicated that he could walk and stand for only one hour at a time and no more than two hours in an eight hour work day.” He also concluded that Plaintiff could only sit for 15 minutes at a time. Yet the Court ruled that “there is nothing in Dr. Best’s notes and no other medical evidence in the record to support his restrictions on Plaintiff’s activities.” Dr. Best did not explain the basis for recommending these restrictions, which the court ruled were inconsistent with his finding that Plaintiff was able to engage in normal daily activities. Furthermore, an orthopedic specialist who examined Plaintiff just one month later recommended no such limitations, concluding only that Plaintiff should undergo physical therapy.
“In light of these inconsistencies and findings not supported by medically verifiable evidence,” the court adopted the magistrate’s recommendation.
A person who is unable to work for a year or more due to a physical or mental disability is generally eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. In order to obtain benefits, the individual must file a claim with the SSA. An experienced Social Security Disability lawyer can assist a client in the claim process by gather the necessary evidence – including doctors’ opinions and other medical records – to support the claim and presenting it to the SSA in the most convincing possible fashion.